Introduction: Nomadic Bookshelf

The idea for this project bore out of the reality that many of us, "the millennials", suffer with all to often. Since leaving for college, I've moved (on average) every 9-10 months. As a result, this meant outfitting my apartment/studio/place to lay my head with cheap furniture. Cheap furniture is great... for one or two moves. However, after assembling and disassembling several times, the particle board begins to flake, the surfaces scratch and wear, and the fasteners tend to strip out. Also, you have to keep track of all the little bolts and brackets which inevitably get lost during the shuffle of moving. To remedy this problem, I wanted something that would be easy to assemble with no fasteners. I wanted something that would stand up to the abuse of my nomadic professionalism. The bookshelf needed to break down small enough to fit into my hatchback. And I wanted something in the same ballpark price range as a comparable piece from the Swedish furniture store.

After searching through Instructables I came across a design by zachsoniasummers and it was everything I was looking for. I ripped off Zach's design and made a few minor modifications.

The design is based on mortise and tenon joint that has been used for thousands of years and is especially useful for those on the move. The shelves have a tenon cut into the ends which slide into the mortise on the vertical supports. The tenon has a through hole to accommodate another tenon (tusk) on the outside of the vertical support to lock in the shelves and provide rigidity.

Step 1: Bill of Materials

Use this link to pull all the dimensions. I quickly slapped this together so a few of the shelves are off by ~1/16", no big. I created half a shelf and mirrored it so they are chopped in two pieces. Again, it was quick and dirty.

I decided to use 2x12 pine for this project. Yes it is heavy. And yes it is probably overkill. But recall my requirement for a rigid and cheap shelf. I started by CADing up a simple model. The bottom shelf has a span of 48" and the angle on the vertical is 8 degrees. This actually makes the shelf stronger as the load increases. The shelf spacing in variable, starting at 14" at the bottom to carry the heaver textbooks and decreasing 1" at each shelf. The total height is 72". The model provided the dimensions for my shopping list. The total cost was approximately $65.


  • 2"x12"x12': 3 boards
  • 100% Tung oil
  • Red Mahogany Stain
  • Polyurethane
  • 1" brush: x 3


  • Jigsaw
  • Angle tool protractor thing (not sure the proper name)
  • Drill
  • Miter saw (although a circular saw or table saw would work as well)
  • Router
  • Belt sander

Step 2: Vertical Supports

For the vertical supports, I translated the dimensions from the model to the boards. This is the moment where I realized that the decision to angle the supports was going to make life difficult. Each mortise had to be cut at an 8 degree angle. To achieve this, I started by drilling out 7/16" holes each end of the mortise. Then I used the jigsaw to rough cut the mortise. I used the angle tool to adjust the jigsaw blade to 8 degrees and properly sized the mortise.

Step 3: Shelves

For the shelves, I started by cutting the tenon. Again, dimensions from the CAD model. I then cut the through hole to accommodate the peg. Lastly I routed the shelf edges to quickly identify which size was up.

Step 4: Test Assembly

Once the verticals and shelves were cut to size, I attempted a quick assembly to check for alignment and proper sizing. Some minor cutting was required, but for the most part the pieces fit together like a puzzle. Big win for CAD!

Step 5: Finishing

I went to town with the belt sander, 80 grit followed by 120. Its pine so I didn't feel the need to go smoother. At this point in the build I got a little lazy and I was antsy to wrap it up. Sanding and staining tends to eat up time and energy. I used one coat of tung oil on the shelves because it takes too damn long to dry. The verticals received two coats of stain and one of urethane.The pictures show the final assembly empty and loaded with my junk. Hope y'all enjoyed it!

Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016